The Strange Tale of the Cavaleers, Part II by Edd Hurt
I conducted the following interviews with James Marvell and John Centinaro in June 2014.
PSF: James, it's great to finally catch up with you. How are you doing? How does it feel to know that you were ahead of your time?
James Marvell: Well, maybe the story will make sense now. When you said you kinda got wind of this, and you kind of saw it clearly that we were ahead of our time, it made me say, "Well, you know, finally, somebody's seein' it." I'm not trying to be cocky, but we went into Waylon [Jennings'] home--and I know we all want to protect history as it's written--but sometimes history, with all due respect, is not written correctly. We introduced this image. His photographer was our photographer, and we went to Waylon when Waylon had kind of a slicked-back, Jerry Lewis-looking type of look, and we were already glaring with our image and the dusters, and the whole bit. Waylon liked it, and he wanted us to come over. I'm also thankful to Willie [Nelson] for not sweeping that away, and allowing me to place [an exhibit about the Country Cavaleers] in his museums. Just so you get a little chuckle, he allowed me to place, and it was as big as the side of your door, an anti-marijuana exhibit. That's because he didn't play favorites, and he's, like, a live-and-let-live kind of guy.
PSF: Do you still perform, James?
JM: Sometimes I go out and do some shows. As a matter of fact, I do these oldies shows. Also, I was part of a group that was in the Top 10--the Beatles were at Number One with "Get Back," and we were at Number Two, right under the Beatles. I still bring back that era, bring back the days of the 60's. That puts me in another bag, but you know, country was always super-close to me. It's almost as if we came and we wanted to do that, and it was rough. Dickey Lee will tell you--we were too early.
PSF: So, you grew up in Tampa. What year were you born, James?
JM: I never give my birthday. I always try to keep it secret. I was a teenager. I've always done that as part of my fun. [James eventually told me that he was in his early 60s.] But when I was just a young kid, my mom gave me my first guitar. She passed away last year. Then I moved along, and loved it, and met up with the Bare family--Bobby Bare's uncle, Johnny Bare. You've heard of Bobby Bare. We were at a little honky-tonk in Tampa, Buddy Good and I. This was in about 1965. Johnny Bare was instructing us about country music. It was a little honky-tonk in Tampa called the Deep South. We liked the rock n' roll of that era, and we even liked people like Joey Dee and the Starliters. But something told us that we liked country music.
PSF: How did you meet Buddy Good, James?
JM: We met up at a little place called the Hullabaloo. It was a place in Tampa that was known to the kids of that era, and what they would have in there would be garage bands. I had one, and Buddy Good, he told me that he was a bass player. And he never played bass in his whole life. He was just a funny guy back then. I love Buddy, but he liked to tell stories. But I guess he learned to play bass eventually--right on the spot. So we interviewed for the band, and he jumped in there and started playing, and he fell on the floor, started singing, I think, "I'm Down." Remember that, by the Beatles? It was that era, the 60's. But we kept the hair long and started to do country music, and became a novelty in Tampa. Bobby Bare would pop in there, and he would say, "You guys gotta go to Nashville. You're different. You're good."
PSF: John Centinaro, tell us about your early days, and how you met James and Buddy.
JC: I was born in Sicily, in Alessandria della Rocca. We came to America in 1949. I was known as the Italian Cowboy in Nashville. I was hired by [Miami record-business entrepreneur] Henry Stone's Tone Distribution, a major record distributor in Hialeah, Fla. Stone had two record shops in Tampa--one in Britton Plaza and one in Northgate. I had the top 100 singles, 45 RPM, 85 cents, the albums in monaural, stereo. Since I was kind of young myself, all the bands used to come in to the record store. That's where James Marvell--he was 15, 16--used to come in. He said, "I've got a band, and I'd like for you to come hear us." So I did, and these kids were great. Marvell wrote some good music and melodies. I was very impressed, so I started workin' with them.
PSF: What happened after the Surprize, and after Mercy broke up?
JC: After Mercy broke up, we got together and said, "Let's go to Nashville and start a duo. Since we have long hair, we'll call ourselves the Country Cavaleers." I had my little Volkswagen, and these three big guys. It's funny now. We drove all the way to Nashville. We're all thinking, they're so unique, like Charley Pride, the first two longhairs in country music. In the '70's, no one had long hair. So boom, we hit Nashville.
PSF: What was it like playing country clubs in the early days, with two long-haired singers?
JC: We hit the road, and we went right smack-dab to San Antonio, Texas. Now you gotta imagine, this is 1971. They've got long hair, cowboy hats, and we went into a club called the Farmer's Daughter. I told the guys, "You sit in the car--you'd better hide. I don't want these guys to see a bunch of longhairs in the car." So I go in, and I talk to the manager. I said, "Look, I got a couple of artists from Nashville, called the Country Cavaleers, and we're just passing through. If you like, I would like to bring them in and do a couple of songs." I showed them a picture: "Here's what they look like." These guys in Texas, they like to drink, and fight, and hang people. It's funny now, but it wasn't funny then. This is Saturday night, so the manager says, "Sure, bring em in, yeah." There were 500 or 600 people there in this huge barn. My guys come in with the long hair; you could have heard a pin drop: "what the heck, who the heck is that?" It was like what happened with Charley Pride--a black guy singin' country music. I'm already familiar with the situation. They go onstage and start singing. "Pour me another cup of coffee," all that country music. "We don't wear long hair in Muskogee." The crowd went wild. That was usually the reaction. I booked em the following two days later.
PSF: James, was it tough in Nashville? How did people react to you?
JM: Well, it was rough in those years, trying to get off the ground. But there were good people, Grand Ole Opry stars that took a liking to us. Jean Shepard and Del Reeves. I've got their written statements, in their own handwriting, about what they called us. They would say that we were the ones that kind of kicked off the whole idea about this image. But yeah, there we were in the midst of all these good old boys in Nashville, winding up on 16th Avenue South in these places called the Wagon Wheel, or even at Tootsie's [Orchid Lounge], the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. We did some shows with Ernest Tubb on the road. We did some shows with the Wilburn Brothers. We did some shows with Conway [Twitty] and Loretta [Lynn]. Loretta really liked us. She said, "I like you boys--you've got pretty, long hair. Is that real?" We'd sit around on the bus with them, and she'd pull on our hair.
PSF: John, did you try to convince record-label people to sign the Cavaleers?
JC: Yes, Dickey Lee was with RCA Records, and he called up Jerry Bradley, the vice-president of RCA. [Bradley became president of RCA's Nashville office in 1973, and assembled the 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws, a collection of tracks by Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser.] I knew his father, Owen Bradley, very well. Jerry Bradley drove about 15 miles--Dickey brought him and said, "You gotta see this group." He drove all the way to Gallatin [a small town near Nashville]. Jerry Bradley was there, and Dickey Lee was there, and I was there. The boys hit the stage, and did their show, and Dickey was trying to get us on RCA. That was before we did the thing with Cutlass. But it didn't work out, for some reason. You know, they wrote some songs, but what we tried to emphasize, I said, "Jerry, listen to me, we got two young guys here, they're hip, and they would bring the young crowd into country music." Same thing I told Jack Clement. We went to Jack's house and we said, "Mr. Clement, we'd like to see you for five minutes." He saw the boys and said, "All right." The boys did a couple of things for him, and I used the same pitch: "Mr. Clement, I know what you did with Charley Pride. We have almost the same thing here. These kids would draw the young people." Like Taylor Swift is doing now. That's what we were trying to accomplish then. But we were ahead of our time.
by David D. Duncan
"Love (Can Make You Happy)" -Warner Bros. 7291, 1969
"Forever"/"The Mornings Come" -Warner Bros. 7297, 1969
Love Can Make You Happy Warner Bros WS 1799, 1969,
"Love (Can Make You Happy)" [re-recording] "Hear You Went Away" "Never My Love" "Forever" "Sounds of Silence" "The Mornings Come" "Aquarius" "Walking By" "Come Softly to Me" "Love Is Blue" "Do I Wanna Live My Life with You" "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
THE COUNTRY CAVALEERS
Presenting the "Country Cavaleers" JBJ Records JBJ-1000, 1974?
"You Make the Sun Shine at Night" "We Were Made for Each Other" "Memories on the Wall" "Hey Baby" "Pretty Baby" "Turn On to Jesus" "Must Have Been Out of My Mind" "Simple Love Song" "God Will Rule" "Thank God You're All I've Ever Wanted"
(As the Cavaleers) Live on Stage A Special Tribute to Elvis Presley Versha Records CLP-16629, 1980?
"Introduction" "Johnny B. Goode" "Rocky Top" "Presley Tribute and Biography (Hound Dog/The Wonder of You/American Trilogy)" "Jambalaya/Ya'll Come (Medley)" "White Lightning" "Am I That Easy to Forget" "The Way I Feel Tonight" "The Prince of the Valley"
"Stop! In the Name of Love"/"Now I Can Live Again" Cutlass Records CC 124, 1972
"Humming Bird"/"Hang On to What" MGM Records K 14606, 1973
"Hang On to What"/"We Were Made for Each Other" Chartwheel 100, 1974
"Call Back Operator"/"We Were Made for Each Other" Country Showcase America 156, 1974
"Everett the Evergreen"/"A Sing Along Christmas Song" Country Showcase America 158, 1974
"Lady on the Run"/"We Were Made for Each Other" Country Showcase America 160, 1975?
"(Remember Those) Sweet Yesterdays"/"I've Got My Mind Satisfied" Country Showcase America 166, 1975
"(Remember Those) Sweet Yesterdays" Country Showcase America 166, 1976? [DJ, mono/stereo]
"If I Love You"/"I've Got My Mind Satisfied" Country Showcase America 169, 1977?
"Te Quiero (I Love You in Many Ways)" Country Showcase America 171, 1977
"Flower of My Life (Flor De Mi Vida)"/"Always Together" Country Showcase America UR1269A , 1978? "You Make the Sun Shine at Night" b/w "Roses on My Pillow Don't Smell the Same Anymore" - Country Showcase America 172, 1978?
The Country Cavaleers Golden Archives, 1996.
"Now I Can Live Again (Live 1972)" "One Heck of a Mistake" "Jambalaya (Live 1976)" "Flower of My Life" "Humming Bird" "Stop! In the Name of Love (Live 1972)" "Best Thing God Ever Made" "Sparkling Brown Eyes" "Outlaws & Cavaleers" "Prince of the Valley" "Cavaleer Interview" "Temptation- Te Quiero" "How Great Thou Art (Live 1992)"
"One Heck of a Mistake" Country Showcase America CSA 176/UR 1432A, 1979
"Best Thing God Ever Made" - Cavaleer Records 116, 1980
"Urban Cowboys, Outlaws, Cavaleers"/"Best Thing God Ever Made" - Cavaleer Records 117, 1981
"Love (Can Make You Happy)"/"Best Thing God Ever Made" - Cavaleer Records 118, 1981
"Johnny We Miss You: A Tribute to Johnny Cash" - CD Baby download, 2011
"First Country Outlaws Didn't Get High" - CD Baby download, 2011
NOTES ON THE DISCOGRAPHY
For years, I searched in vain for the 70's recordings of the Country Cavaleers. It wasn't until I unearthed a dusty 45 at a Nashville second-hand record shop that I figured out that they were named the Country Cavaleers, not the Country Cavaliers. They were one small vowel sound away from fame. The Cavaleers etched a deep impression upon my hometown, Nashville, during their brief sojourn among the other Grand Ole Opry wannabes. Their self-released inaugural album, Presenting the "Country Cavaleers", was likely sold only at personal appearances. It is one of the great unsung debut LP's of self-written material. Be sure to check out James Marvell's website, jamesmarvell.net, as well as the 70 Youtube videos that cover his multi-faceted career, including the unique father-son-outlaw-country song, "Did Pop Smoke with Willie?" As Lord Byron wrote, "In short, he was a perfect cavalier/And to his very valet seemed a hero."--David D. Duncan
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